The DC Extended Universe has not been off to a great start. While box office performance has been pretty strong for the most part, critical and fan reception have been mostly poor to mixed. After the consecutive disappointments of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, many people took the “three strikes, you’re out” mentality. They gave up too soon though. Sifting through the rubble is the character considered by most to be the best part of BvS: Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is the first live action film to star the famous heroine and the first truly significant female-led superhero film. With these huge milestones setting heavy expectations, and with the responsibility of saving a franchise hanging on for life, it had a lot to meet up to. And it succeeds wonderfully!
Diana (Gal Gadot) was modeled from clay by the Amazonian Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and brought to life by Zeus. She has spent her life on the hidden island Themyscira training in battle to eventually defeat Ares, the God of War, and discovers that she has abilities way beyond the other Amazons. When an American spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane on the island and informs the Amazons of World War I, Diana decides to act. She and Steve travel to London with hopes of finding Ares, defeating him, and ridding humanity of war forever.
Right off the bat, Wonder Woman has something that none of the other three DCEU films have had, and that’s focus. The plot of the film is very straightforward, with one major conflict and clearly defined characters. Unlike the other films, no attempts are made at franchise-building. There is no expositional dump scene helping to set the viewer up for Justice League. A scene from Batman v Superman is used as a framework for setting up the flashback to Wonder Woman’s origin, but that’s the only connection to the other films. This singular focus allows director Patty Jenkins to concentrate on making it the best it can be, rather than worrying about setting up future films.
The straightforward plot also allows the film to develop its characters into people that the audience cares about. The previous films struggled to create compelling characters, but Wonder Woman takes its time giving Diana and Steve personalities and allowing them to have conversations that strengthen them as characters. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are perfect for the parts and they commit to them wonderfully. Both characters have to face new worlds with customs that they aren’t familiar with, and it’s truly fascinating to watch them grow closer together as they learn. The dialogue is also laugh-out-loud hilarious, and there are some very emotional moments throughout, especially towards the end.
Patty Jenkins is great at setting up these characters and making them compelling, but not everything is perfect. She makes some great directorial choices, such as a muted conversation near the end of the movie and a great color palette, but there are some very poor choices too. The action scenes, especially an emotionally charged set piece at around the halfway mark, are staged wonderfully and Gadot pulls them off perfectly, but Jenkins has an obsession with slow motion shots that can become very annoying. There’s multiple in every battle. And the end kind of falls apart when a pretty poignant point is basically thrown out in favor of another subpar CGI showdown. It’s definitely better and more emotionally charged that the last few films, but the franchise still needs work in that department.
Wonder Woman is exactly the movie that the DCEU needed. It isn’t perfect. An over-reliance on slo-mo and a weak third act dampen the experience, the plot is fairly formulaic and predictable, and it falls victim to PVS (Poor Villain Syndrome). But it succeeds in how it utilizes that formula. It stays focused on its goal and allows the characters to truly become characters. It also sends a very empowering message to young girls. But best of all, it really is a fun movie. It will have you laughing, crying, thinking, and cheering, and you’ll want to return to this world as soon as possible. Wonder Woman is not flawless, but it’s a giant leap forward for the franchise and makes its future look a whole lot brighter.